Happy New Year patients! I hope your holiday season was full of fun and family time
To kick off 2014 in the Hospital I'd like to talk a little bit about the importance of art history. Knowing your historical roots as an artist is not only important for improving your work as a whole, it's important to understand and cross reference the foundations laid for you. During my undergrad (I have a BFA in painting and drawing) my concentration curriculum had a hefty art history requirement so I added an art history minor for the trouble
There are those out there (even on the University level) who say that art history is not relevant and should not be studied (some say it should even be ignored). I am not among them, and I find the idea of intentionally ignoring knowledge of any kind completely asinine. Some of the biggest misunderstandings of contemporary art come from ignorance of the rich history surrounding it. So let's get started shall we?
How can I develop my own style if I know what other artists have done already?
I hear this argument all the time. Before we go any further, know this: originality is a myth. There is nothing said that has not been said before in one way shape or form. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that it shouldn't be talked about, it just means we aren't special little snowflakes. English playwright David Hare sums up the pursuit of originality this way:
"The majority of mankind is involved with repeat-
ing to himself over and over "I am safe." The man who
is a true artist continually reinstates the existence of
danger, at the same time managing in some way to cope
with it. He is continually within the process of victory.
He does not conceive of victory as accomplished, or
worse still, hide from all possibility in a shell of safety.
The man who deals with originality is desperately
needed but seldom wanted. For along with his promise
of victory he lets loose these shadows of chaos.
Why let out the lions at all, you may ask. The artist
has no particular reasons for doing so, it is only that
he did not know they were in cages. His originality con-
sists, not in letting the lions out, but in not knowing
they were in."-The Myth of Originality in Contemporary Art
Come now, turn that frown upside down! Knowing what others have done can offer inspiration and ideas in very concrete terms. Struggling with color? Check out the Fauves. Enchanted by the Sublime? Learn about Mark Rothko or Qing Dynasty paintings. Are you into symbolism? Read up on the work of The Surrealists or (
) The Symbolists.
I'm into games and character concept work, why do I need to know about the Italian Renaissance painters?
Well at face value, what does a video game of any kind have to do with art history? I mean, it's not like those fantastical stories had any basis, right? Designer Yoshitaka Amano's influences range from ancient Japanese woodblock prints, to American Pop Art. Akihiko Yoshida's inspirations include Millet and Rembrandt. Insert your favorite game developer or artist and I'm sure you wouldn't see them thumbing his or her nose at art history. Those great costumes, wonderful character designs, and terrifying beasties were born from the knowledge of other previously existing tales and artwork. Beyond having an understand of the narrative work of video games, games have an entire history of development that should also be intensely studied if you are seriously considering that career path.
I'm an anime artist/mangaka, there's nothing that Art History can do for me
I'm going to have disagree with you on that one for sure! Anime received a lot of inspiration from early American animation. Now beyond that, Eastern art has fabulous history that isn't always given the spotlight that Western art history gets. Manga can date back as far as the 12th century BCE, and woodblock printing dates back to the 8th century BCE. Here's another sweet little nugget of information: moveable type printing was first invented in 1040 BCE during the Song Dynasty in China by a man named Bi Sheng. Pretty spiffy stuff right? Woodblock printing was first used to produce Buddhist scrolls and illustrations. One of the most studied masters of woodblock printing and Manga was Katsushika Hokusai, he lived during the Edo period in Japan. The popular style prints and paintings during the Edo period are called Ukiyo-e or "pictures of the floating world."
Hodogoya on the Tokaido, Katsushika Hokusai, woodblock print, 1830
Numazu on the Tokaido, Utagawa Hiroshige, woodblock print, 1832
Russo-Japanese Naval Battle at the Entrance of Inchon: The Great Victory of the Japanese Navy--BANZAI!, Kobayshi Kiyochika, woodblock print, 1904
Dawn at Futamigaura, Utagawa Kunisada, woodblock print, 1830
This genre of prints was literally about the high life. Pretty women, epic battles, legendary creatures, and of course, street scenes. The prints were highly favored by members of the court and aristocracy. Following the end of the Edo period and the beginning of modernization, (and the opening of Japan's borders to the Western world) Japanese artwork gained more and more influences which led to the anime and manga we see today.
I could hardly keep awake for world history class, therefore Art History is boring too!
Any subject can be made boring simply by the way it is presented to learners, and learning can most certainly be made fun! So here's something that'll make you chuckle, I'm sure you've all seen a variation of this meme:
"Somebody told me, that you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend I had in February of last year."-The Killers
The image used for this meme seems pretty contemporary right? Well it certainly is ahead of its time, but it just so happens to be a self portrait of French artist Joseph Ducreux. Ducreux lived during the late 18th century and made his living through making portraits of aristocracy (including a portrait of Marie Antoinette), however, his personal work explored capturing personality in portraits. Decreux's paintings definitely pushed the envelope, but the basis for the work was more academic than tongue-in-cheek.
Le Discret, Joseph Ducreux, oil on aluminum panel, 1791
Yet still, artists have a knack for being clever little smartasses.
Air de Paris (50 cc of Paris Air), Marcel Duchamp,1919
Marcel Duchamp was French American artist and writer associated with Dadaism, conceptual art, painting, and sculpture. He was also one of the first artists to use what he called "readymades," which are non-art objects that have already been assembled but are repurposed by the artist. This vial was purchased in Paris by Duchamp as a gift to a friend, however the gift was Parisian air, not the vial. During its lifetime in an American museum in 1949 it was damaged and repaired, which begs the question...is there still Parisian air inside?
L.H.O.O.Q., Marcel Duchamp, post card reproduction with added moustache, goatee and title in pencil, 1919
Marcel Duchamp made many interesting and amazing contributions to the art world during his lifetime, but I find this one in particular one of the most hilarious. This postcard reproduction of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was drawn on by Duchamp with the lettering "l.h.o.o.q" on the bottom. The letters themselves are not an acronym for anything, but the pronunciation of the lettering sounds an awful lot like the French phrase,"Elle a chaud au cul." The phrase translates to "she has a hot ass." Very cheeky indeed.
Olympia, Edouard Manet, oil on canvas, 1863
Manet was one of many early modern painters to begin simplifying his painting technique (using less shading and modeling). Although the woman's near lack of shading and almost outlined body were a part of the critic's (and public's) disdain of the painting, who the woman represented was the real shocker.Olympia
was a French nickname for prostitutes. The woman who modeled for this painting was not only a real life prostitute, she was so well known that all of the people who initially saw the painting at its unveiling recognized her
. However, even if a viewer did not know this woman, the articles of clothing that she is
wearing let us know that she's a lady of the night (the orchid in her hair, the choker, and only one
shoe on). If that isn't graphic enough for you, take note of the black cat on the far right of the bed. What's another name for a kitty cat? On top of the overt eroticism in the painting, this woman is also doing something else threatening, she is complete control of her sexuality (a completely unheard of idea in the 19th century). Nearly all female nudes painted up until that time never returned the gaze of the viewer, instead they looked down, away, had their faces hidden, or were unaware that their bodies were being ogled. Also if you were wondering, yes, this painting also happens to be unashamedly racist(which, I may add, was not included in its original criticisms) .
The Treachery of Images, Rene Magritte, oil on canvas, 1928-29
Magritte was one of the great surrealist painters, best known for his fun and witty work. This particular painting is probably his most well known. The text under the pipe reads "this is not a pipe," and by George! It really isn't a pipe, is it? Or is it?
One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth, Wood folding chair, mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of "chair," 1965
Joseph Kosuth is an American conceptual artist. Here we see a chair, a photo of a chair, and the dictionary definition of a chair. Which object presented is actually a chair? Are they all chairs? To add a deeper layer of conversation about this work, Kosuth didn't create any of the elements in the piece.First Communion of Anaemic Young Girls In The Snow, Alphonse Allias, 1883
Allias was a French writer known for this kind of hilarious nonsense. This "painting" is regarded as one of the first uses of minimalism. Speaking of minimalism...
Invisible Sculpture, Andy Warhol, Pedestal and wall label, 1985
Warhol "installed" his invisible sculpture in a night club in 1985 by standing on the pedestal then stepping down. The artwork wasn't the act of placing the pedestal or the location, it was Warhol's presence. Now before you say something to the tune of "that's stupid," check out the rather insightful info gained from "invisible art": theunobserved.com/art/invisibl…
So you see, art history can be fun, helpful, and intriguing! In fact, there is a group dedicated to gathering info and writing articles on topics relating to art history! Fittingly named, the ArtHistoryProject
contains oodles of information to satisfy any hungry learner. I hope I've given you some food for thought to help you along with the beginning of another new year of art making!